By Dr. Ken Cuffey, President, Urbana Theological Seminary
June 16, 2020
What are we as followers of Jesus to make of all that’s happened in these last several weeks? For some it’s been painful, agonizing, angering, while others have discovered a clarified focus for their energies. Whatever we feel, we need to remind ourselves that God’s clear call to us is to love your neighbor as yourself. This is vital for issues of racism and justice, as well as for behavior around others in a pandemic.
Our Urbana Seminary community combines people of multiple races and ethnicities, which provides a chance to listen and grow. There are certainly those in our Seminary community who have suffered the heavy hand of racism more than I have. Although life has treated individuals in quite different ways, I want to speak on behalf of our circle of Jesus-followers here at the Seminary that we are not blind to such varied experiences, and I want to continue to grow, and learn, and advocate.
This blog series will seek to contribute to our thinking and understanding of the issues of race and justice that have been brought so painfully into the center of public focus. There are certain aspects of the current situation that we as followers of Jesus Christ need to address, whatever our background. We all decry the horrific murder of George Floyd, along with so many other lives taken this year. We mourn brutality. We cry out for justice and an end to systemic racism in our society. We repent of the many ways that each of us has harbored racist thoughts in our hearts, even unrecognized. Many of us white persons have renewed our determination to listen and grow in understanding what the structures of our culture have placed on our black neighbors, and truly desire to become allies. God’s prophetic challenge for me and for us together is to pray and to work for change in our thinking and relationships, even leading to more just and equitable structures/systems in our society. Our desire is to faithfully represent and anticipate the kingdom of God.
In this initial blog I do not desire to simply restate what so many have expressed so eloquently in the last few weeks. Though that would speak truth, it would also seem redundant. Instead I want to suggest a few directions to turn in reflecting Biblically on the issues at hand. As Jesus-followers, it is vital that we develop a Biblical view on these issues. What can spark healthy life-giving reflection? There are several places to begin:
- Look to what the Bible affirms about our origins.
26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Paramount in importance is the way we regard fellow humans around us. Scientists estimate that there are around 7.77 million species of animals on our planet. Out of this staggering number, only one species is characterized by God’s Word as being in the image of God: humans, Homo sapiens. Every person on this planet in certain ways mirrors God. Every human has been invested with a dignity that is unparalleled. Each person I encounter shares this with me and with everyone else. This means that there is a common denominator with any person. This requires my respect and even love. Every person is in the image of God, regardless of skin color.
- Listen to what the Bible affirms about our common need for and before God.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
Here is a foundation for thought where the ground is level: each of us has fallen far short of God’s standard of holy perfection, Jesus died to take the wrath due to me and you, and we need him desperately. Each of us is a broken sinner who has gone their own way. We are reminded of this seeing images of struggles with racism, expressions of violence, and quietly held inner attitudes that need to be addressed. Each of us needs a Savior. We can rejoice that we can know God through his Son Jesus Christ and his work on the cross. His tomb is empty. He is alive and with us now. Lay hold of him! His love for you and me is total and without condition. Here is our home, our refuge, our shelter, our place in the Good Shepherd’s flock.
- Learn from the Biblical model of lamenting what is broken around us.
49 My eyes will flow unceasingly,
50 until the Lord looks down
from heaven and sees.
51 What I see brings grief to my soul . . . Lamentations 3:49-51a
The sharp anguish felt by an individual or a people will always be unique. The backdrop to Lamentations is the smoldering ruins of a sacked and devastated Jerusalem, yet even in such a setting, Scripture models something for us that we can also take into our lives. The book of Lamentations wails in desolate sorrow over the disaster and its pain. This may also be an appropriate way for many Jesus-followers today to respond to what has happened, and the ways our society has functioned, as well as what may have been unexposed in our own hearts. We can lament. This is entirely Biblical, but not often part of our life-experience as believers. We can cry out in sorrow for what we see, for what has happened, for lives taken, for injustice of all sorts. We can feel along with those who suffer.
- Let the Hebrew prophets prick your conscience and lead you to more Christ-like life and relationships.
Both Amos and Micah describe, expose, and challenge a society that was broken along lines that divided people one from the other. In the 8th century BC in Israel and Judah the societal fault line was along lines of wealth and class and region and nationality. But the two prophets exposed the sins in the hearts of those who took advantage of and oppressed others around them and called for contrition and repentance. Speaking for God himself, they also summoned those on each side of the societal divides back to the covenant that all the people had with God, which implies our calling to live in a way that reflects God’s character of perfection and justice and equity. Consider the following selections as a place to begin reflecting on how God’s prophets would have spoken into our current society. How does this imply I should feel? Or speak out?
Woe to those who plan iniquity,
to those who plot evil on their beds!
At morning’s light they carry it out
because it is in their power to do it.
2 They covet fields and seize them,
and houses, and take them.
They defraud people of their homes,
they rob them of their inheritance. Micah 2:1-2
Then I said,
“Listen, you leaders of Jacob,
you rulers of Israel.
Should you not embrace justice,
2 you who hate good and love evil;
who tear the skin from my people
and the flesh from their bones;
3 who eat my people’s flesh,
strip off their skin
and break their bones in pieces;
who chop them up like meat for the pan,
like flesh for the pot?”
4 Then they will cry out to the Lord,
but he will not answer them.
At that time he will hide his face from them
because of the evil they have done. Micah 3:1-4
Hear this, you leaders of Jacob,
you rulers of Israel,
who despise justice
and distort all that is right;
10 who build Zion with bloodshed,
and Jerusalem with wickedness.
11 Her leaders judge for a bribe,
her priests teach for a price,
and her prophets tell fortunes for money.
Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say,
“Is not the Lord among us?
No disaster will come upon us.” Micah 3:9-11
6 This is what the Lord says:
“For three sins of Israel,
even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
7 They trample on the heads of the poor
as on the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed. Amos 2:6-7c
Indeed the prophets do expose sin to call us to repent from injustice and inhumanity. Moreover they also lead the way in calling us to live as Jesus did while here on earth:
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow. Isaiah 1:17
Urbana Seminary is a community of people who follow Jesus. We desire to deepen in our experience of him in our lives, as well as in living so as to express his character to others. Recent events have clarified how urgent it is for Christ’s people to speak up and live in our moment in time in a way that conveys the life and heart of Jesus.
As President of the Seminary, I envision that we move forward as the Seminary community through seeing each other and sensing the variety of experiences in life which call for our response, and standing alongside one another as we grow, learn, advocate, and speak with a prophetic voice. As we discern the concrete steps necessary for the Seminary, one of the ways we will move forward is to provide space on our Seminary blog for a series of reflections related to this important and urgent conversation about race.